This Army general's death is a sad reminder of the military's mental health crisis

The mysterious death of Maj. Gen. (Promotable) John G. Rossi on July 31, shortly before he was to be promoted to lieutenant general and take command of U.S. Army Space and Missile Defense Command/Army Forces Strategic Command, has now been ruled a suicide.

According to a report by the Associated Press, Rossi is the highest-ranking officer and first Army general officer to kill himself while on active duty since statistics were kept in 2000. In an obituary posted online, Rossi left behind a wife, three children (one an Army officer), his father and a sister.

The death of Army Maj. Gen. John Rossi was the first active duty Army general to commit suicide since records were kept in 2000.

Then-Brig. Gen. John Rossi shakes hands with Command Sgt. Maj. Jim Thomson, Nov. 12, after arriving on Camp Taji, Iraq, for a visit to the troops there. On Rossi’s left walks Col. Frank Muth, the commander of the Enhanced Combat Aviation Brigade, 1st Infantry Division. (Photo U.S. Army)

During his career, Rossi had received the Distinguished Service Medal with two Oak Leaf Clusters, the Legion of Merit with four Oak Leaf Clusters, and the Bronze Star with an Oak Leaf Cluster, among other decorations. He had served a tour during Operation Iraqi Freedom.

Rossi became part of an increasingly tragic statistic. According to a study by the Department of Veterans Affairs released in July, 20 veterans take their own lives every day. That was down from 22 per day according to the previous study that used data from 2012.

While Rossi’s suicide is the Army’s first active duty general officer who took his own life since the Department of Defense started to keep statistics in 2000, high-ranking officials committing suicide is not an unknown phenomenon.

One of the most notable incidents involved Adm. Jeremy Boorda who was the Chief of Naval Operations when he shot himself in May, 1996. Another incident involved James Forrestal, who had recently resigned as Secretary of Defense when he was hospitalized for treatment of “overwork” (he was actually suffering from serious depression). In May of 1949, he jumped out of a window at the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland.

Even legendary military leaders contemplated suicide. William Tecumseh Sherman, the Civil War general who was most famous for capturing Atlanta and his March to the Sea, had a mental breakdown in late 1861 during which he considered taking his own life.

In a statement released after the announcement of Rossi’s cause of death his family said, “For our family, this has been an incredibly painful time, and we ask that you continue to keep us in your thoughts and prayers. To all the other families out there, to the man or woman who may be facing challenging times, please seek assistance immediately.”

For veterans in crisis, or their friends and family, help is available. Call (800)273-8255, send a text message to 838255, or chat online at https://www.veteranscrisisline.net/ChatTermsOfService.aspx.

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